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Komi: Excellence at the Next Level

Joe H May 11, 2008 01:41 PM

I have missed Fabio. When he left Maestro last August I thought that it would be a long time before we would find a restaurant in the Washington area as personal, as excellent, as "worth a journey" as was his. We've enjoyed CityZen, Citronelle, Eve, Vidalia and Palena on recent visits yet there has not been anywhere that has stoked the passion we knew, the sense of anticipation, the unbridled hunger we had for a dinner at Maestro.

Until last night at Komi.

Over three and one half hours my wife and I sampled our way through over eighteen tastes and courses as well as nearly two bottles of wine before staggering appreciatively out the door, sated, satisfied and smiling.

Johnny Monis, as Fabio Trabocchi before him, is currently nominated for a James Beard award for national under 30 chef of the year in the United States. As Fabio was a gift to the D. C. area so is Johnny Monis. And he should win the award. Six years ago I compared Fabio to Massimiliano at Rubano's three Michelin star Le Calandre. Today, I respectfully compare Johnny Monis to Fabio. He, his staff and his restaurant are THAT good.

Unfortunately, I did not take notes. I remember an incredible six inch wide live diver scallop that was presented to us before the dinner; two black nettled softball bodied Sea Urchins on a similar platter; incredible tender, moist, succulent crispy skinned lamb that alone was worth a trip to Athens, "salad" with mesclun and goat cheese deep fried in a fragile, crispy crust, pea size morsels of fresh, raw nearly orgasmic lobster and a half dozen spoon size servings of exquisitely prepared raw seafood I would long for in Santorini: all on Seventeenth street in D. C. with the welcoming neighborhood outside of the front window.

And a staff stoked, honored and respectful of what their kitchen was preparing with service that was on par with any three Michelin star restaurant we have ever experienced in Europe. The antithesis of what we found two Saturdays ago in Baltimore at the affected Charleston. A discussion that my wife and I had at the table for how a chef suffers or prospers for the enthusiasm and presentation of those in their dining rooms. Komi prospers, is enhanced, embellished and complimented. Yet friendly, indulgent, enthusiastic and caring. As fine of service as we have found on either side of the Atlantic.

And a knowledgeable, passionate sommelier to equal Vincent or Mark. Worthy of their restaurants or his restaurant, Komi. With a respectfully priced wine list that allows indulgence and compliments what his Chef puts on the table.

Also, a dishwasher to respect since every single course introduced new silverware and new plates. The analogy with Fabio comes full circle, not just with age, food, taste and vision but also with the Sterling based wholesaler, Fortessa, who supplies most of the tableware. There are shapes, pedastals and platters unseen in most other restaurants that are on the center of the stage here.

Oohs and ahs have returned to the D. C. area, whether Tyson's or Seventeenth street.

To Johnny Monis: you honor D. C. with a wonderful, extraordinarily creative world class restaurant. Whether presented as Obelisk at the next level or a minimalist Maestro, your restaurant is one of the finest in America as well as one of the absolute best anywhere. Thank you for sharing your talent, vision and growth with us.

I

  1. o
    oysterspearls May 11, 2008 08:20 PM

    Joe,

    So glad you had the opportunity to try Komi and enjoyed it.

    I have been telling anyone willing to listen that Johnny Monis is one of the most underrated chefs in the country. Maybe he is finely getting some more recognition lately, but I believe deserving of more.

    1. alkapal May 12, 2008 07:29 AM

      joe, what is orgasmic lobster? a typo?

      1 Reply
      1. re: alkapal
        Joe H May 12, 2008 10:19 AM

        A dish that tastes better than it should...

      2. c
        cleveland park May 12, 2008 10:26 AM

        nice review. I share the same feelings about Komi as you do and the amount of raw seafood preparations you were served, makes me want to go again ASAP. Was that a special request or part of a standard degustation meal?

        13 Replies
        1. re: cleveland park
          Joe H May 12, 2008 11:21 AM

          It was the larger (i.e. $108 prix fixe) meal. I'm guessing that the enormous diver scallop presented in its shell depends totally on availability. I should also note that their markup on wine is much less than I would have anticipated. Perhaps 60-70% over average retail. And, perhaps remarkably, the dining room was full at 6:15.

          1. re: cleveland park
            d
            dcfoodie13 May 15, 2008 12:18 PM

            I was planning on trying Komi sometime over the summer, but did not know that such a large number of dishes were raw. Do you think they would accomodate for someone who doesn't eat raw meat or seafood?

            1. re: dcfoodie13
              c
              cleveland park May 15, 2008 12:22 PM

              you have to call

              1. re: cleveland park
                Joe H May 15, 2008 02:48 PM

                My wife doesn't eat raw meat or seafood, either. (Nor foie gras...) She described several of these (scallop and a lobster preparation were the best) as among the best dishes she has ever tasted anywhere. I don't believe the "smaller" prix fixe ($85 or so and about 9-10 courses/tastes) had nearly as many. Still, forgive my insistence, but at Komi you will really lose a lot but not at least trying one or two of these. Literally, they are only one or two bites each.

                Komi did not have foie gras but I talked my wife into trying it about ten years ago at Violon d'Ingres in Paris (after a lot of wine!). Now she loves it, even when she's not in Paris! Still, today, she will tell you that she doesn't like raw seafood nor foie gras. In fact when she first saw Komi's menu she said, and I quote: "yuck."

                The "yuck" became one of her best meals.

                1. re: Joe H
                  e
                  Ericandblueboy Jul 31, 2008 05:20 AM

                  Sounds like you have a choice between a small and a large tasting menu. We're going on Saturday night. I think we're going with the large tasting menu unless you tell me it's going to be gut busting.

                  1. re: Ericandblueboy
                    Joe H Jul 31, 2008 05:52 AM

                    It's not. I believe 17 or 18 tastes and servings most of which were one or two bites. Strongly urge the larger menu to appreciate this restaurant. You'll leave full but not uncomfortably so.

                    1. re: Joe H
                      j
                      Jason1 Jul 31, 2008 06:04 AM

                      However, with the smaller menu you can choose the pasta, meat and dessert courses, while the larger menu these courses are chosen for you from the options. In retrospect, I would have preffered to choose my own. The pasta course chosen for me was my least preferred option, although the goat for two was great (my wife loved it and I otherwise would not have chosen it). For the dessert my wife and I had to swap, as she was not a fan of the basil custard that she was given and was eyeing the chcolate dessert placed in front of me. You really only get a few additions to the mezze and a cheese course with the larger option, and the cheese course (a cheese ice cream when we were there) really wasn't one of the best courses. If I went back, I'd probably choose the smaller option, not because of the amount of food, but because you have more influence over the menu.

                      1. re: Jason1
                        e
                        Ericandblueboy Jul 31, 2008 06:21 AM

                        so there were items that you could have chose with the smaller tasting that you would not otherwise get with the larger tasting? It also seems like you two didn't get the same things with the larger tasting. Do they explain all this to you up front and present you with both menus prior to ordering?

                        1. re: Ericandblueboy
                          j
                          Jason1 Jul 31, 2008 06:49 AM

                          At my table, and those around me, the men were served certain courses and the women were served certain courses for the pasta, meat and dessert courses of the larger tasting. In this case, it's more of a surprise, and the menu's not presented prior. However, all of the item's come from the main menu, which is used to select the courses for the smaller tasting. Now that I read this over, this might make it sound more confusing than it should be.

                          1. re: Jason1
                            e
                            Ericandblueboy Jul 31, 2008 07:01 AM

                            Were there 18 courses on the large tasting menum, so that the total number of dishes tasted exceed 18 (because men and women had some different dishes)? Or the total number of different dishes is 18, with the number of courses being less? In any case, the main menu had items that were not covered by the large tasting menu, and of those items not covered, there were some that you coveted? I think for my first try, I'll go with the large tasting menu.

                            1. re: Ericandblueboy
                              Joe H Jul 31, 2008 08:37 AM

                              I'm sure you can request certain dishes on the larger tasting menu. On our visit in May a couple at an adjacent table ordered the shorter menu at virtually the same time we placed our's. Our dinner lasted at least an hour longer with a number of courses/tastes (the diver scallop in its shell, the incredible presentation of the black nettled Sea Urchins) not part of the shorter menu on this evening. There are going to be several courses/tastes that you may not like or others that you prefer more. Regardless, the larger menu will allow you to fully sample the breadth of his ability; I am certain that there are several courses/tastes that are simply not available on the shorter tasting menu. Several of the presentations were showstopping: the couple at the next table swooned at several of the dishes we were served. Last, I really do hesitate to call these "courses." At least seven or eight of them were literally one or two bites.

                              Whichever tasting you order try and request the diver scallop in its shell, the Sea Urchin and the lobster sashimi if they are available. All three were extraordinary.

                              The greatest "adventure" at Komi is to trust the chef and try tastes you would never otherwise consider. Not all will be outstanding, but those that are will be memorable. You probably will not have experienced them otherwise. This is not a place to go with the familiar. It is not what it is all about.

                              1. re: Joe H
                                c
                                chowsearch Jul 31, 2008 11:37 AM

                                Joe, what was your experience at your Charleston visit you mentioned? Attitudinal?

                                1. re: chowsearch
                                  Joe H Jul 31, 2008 03:32 PM

                                  http://www.chowhound.com/topics/511047

                                  My complete post is about halfway down the thread. Komi and Charleston are polar opposites stylistically.

          2. w
            Wallowing Gourmet Jun 2, 2008 03:29 PM

            Having dined at Komi on Thursday, agree completely with your assessment. It was a wondrous experience, with such a vast palette of ingredients, that I can't imagine how large the walk-in must be. An utterly phenomenal experience in every way, from food, to wine pairings, to service, to the hip and cool relaxed ambience. I've probably already posted on Komi threads far too much, but I am that impressed. The only dining experience I've had that even is in the same plane is Cyrus, in Healdsburg, CA, and I'd be hard pressed to choose the better, given the large differenced between them. This place, to me, is a gem that will undoubtedly only get better, and consequently harder for me to get a reservation for, but I shall return.

            1. k
              kathode Jun 3, 2008 08:40 AM

              Thank you for the review. Can anyone tell me how difficult it is to get a reservation here? How long in advance should I plan for a weeknight around 8PM?

              1 Reply
              1. re: kathode
                j
                Jason1 Jun 3, 2008 08:56 AM

                They take reservations one month in advance (book on June 3rd for July 3rd, etc.). You should try to call on that day if possible, but it's not nearly as hard as minibar.

              2. g
                gyozagirl Jul 31, 2008 08:23 AM

                Thank you so much for the thorough review. I'm sure that some items may have changed, especially since your post was in May, but we were able to snag a last-minute late res for Friday night, and I'm even more excited to go after reading your post!!

                1 Reply
                1. re: gyozagirl
                  debit Jul 31, 2008 09:10 AM

                  Gyozagirl--see ya there. We are going tomorrow night, too (hubby's b-day). Haven't been in a year and am really looking forward to it. I hope there is octopus again. And suckling pig. And olives. And dates. And...

                  I really love it there.

                2. e
                  Ericandblueboy Aug 3, 2008 12:28 AM

                  Had reservation for 6:30 p.m. Saturday night. The restaurant was about half full at our arrival but it was almost packed by the time we left. We ordered the degustazione.

                  Summer vegetable gazpacho - my mom use to make the worst vegetable smoothies with apples and beets. This is only slightly better tasting, but probably very nutritious.
                  Sashimi of mackrel, fluke and amberjack - very thinly sliced (too thinly sliced for me to taste much of the fish, but thin enough for my wife who does't normally eat raw seafood to try these)
                  Raw diver scallops two ways - sliced thin with mayo-mustard sauce and chopped with wasabi seasoning, we didn't get a fancy presentation but these were delicious.
                  Lump crabmeat with geoduck in yogurt sauce - the crab was delicious but I wasn't a fan of the tiny slivers of geoduck.
                  Breaded fried caesar salad flavored cube - a familiar outer shell (like the breading on cheese-sticks) infused with anchovy flavored soup, tasted wonderful
                  Date stuffed with mascarpone cheese - kind of odd to have this in the middle of a meal because it's sweet, is this a Greek tradition?
                  Steak tartare topped with egg in a waffle-like cone - my wife bravely bit into this and was surprised by how perfectly seasoned it was, she only wish she didn't look at the tartare
                  Kobe with tater tot pesto sauce, buffalo mozzarella pickled tomato carmelized onions - the kobe was the best tasting bite of beef I've ever had! too bad it was just one bite!
                  Pork belly gyro with pickled cucumber and carmelized onions - I had something similar recently (can't recall where), these make you wonder why gyros are normally only offered with chicken or that packaged meat product
                  Foie gras cream puff mousse, goat cheese s'more - flavorless foie gras
                  Ravioli with cuttlefish, spaghetti with urchin and crab - we shared these two pasta dishes. You gotta love urchin to enjoy the spaghetti because the flavor is very strong, the ravioli was bland in comparison
                  Leg of lamb with fresh homemade pita - as good as the one we had in Marrakesh, where the whole lamb was cooked in an underground oven, with crispy skin but tender meat.

                  The service was friendly and proficient although was quite a wait between some dishes. The food was top notch (better than Citronelle and Cityzen, imo) but the atmosphere was lacking (there were people in flip flops and a table of loud drunk ladies). A new location with valet parking would make this a world-class restaurant.

                  6 Replies
                  1. re: Ericandblueboy
                    s
                    Steve Aug 3, 2008 02:15 PM

                    Frankly, your description of how you enjoyed the food does not make me jealous! Seems like there were several components of this meal you didn't enjoy. 4 of the first 6 dishes for example. 3 of the last 5 you seem to rave about, but the other 2 are only qualified.

                    Yet at the end you say it could be a world class restaurant.

                    1. re: Ericandblueboy
                      p
                      Pappy Aug 4, 2008 05:35 AM

                      After reading this post, I could only conclude that Komi does not fit your tastes at all.

                      1. re: Pappy
                        e
                        Ericandblueboy Aug 4, 2008 06:55 AM

                        I can go to a nice restaurant and order an appetizer and an entree that I know I will enjoy, or I can go to a restaurant and let the chef show me his creativity. I prefer the latter. As Joe H said, you won't like every dish but you will be amazed by some of the dishes. As btwn Citronelle, CityZen and Komi, Komi actually offers the best food experience (but I haven't had Citronelle's Grand Degustation).

                      2. re: Ericandblueboy
                        r
                        reiflame Aug 4, 2008 05:39 AM

                        If you don't mind me asking, what was the bill? My boyfriend and I are considering Eve or Komi for my birthday but we don't have unlimited funds this year :(

                        1. re: reiflame
                          e
                          Ericandblueboy Aug 4, 2008 06:44 AM

                          2 degustazione, 1 wine pairing (5 glasses), 2 beers and an extra glass of wine was about $320 with tax but no tip.

                        2. re: Ericandblueboy
                          d
                          Doh Aug 4, 2008 08:17 AM

                          I understand loud drunk ladies would spoil the atmosphere, but I can't imagine they are there every night (at least they weren't there when we were), and I have to say I liked the friendly, unpretentious atmosphere.

                          I also thought the date was one of the lowlights of the dinner (I told my wife that it must have been a substitution for us due to food allergies), but from what I can tell since I've been, it seems to be one of the signature dishes and some people love it.

                          P.S. I think our meal was about $300 or so for two including tip, but we did not get the tasting menu.

                        3. s
                          StandardPrince Aug 13, 2008 06:18 AM

                          How long ahead do you need to RSVP? Isnt it close some of Sept?

                          1 Reply
                          1. re: StandardPrince
                            cheesepowder Aug 13, 2008 06:24 AM

                            Their website (click under Hours) says they will be closed from Aug. 24 to Sept. 23 and will begin accepting reservations for Sept. 24 and beyond on Sept. 9 at 12 pm.

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